Chilean peformer Quique Neira is enormously popular in Latin America and the show at the Festival Hub was full of enthusiastic compaňeros from all over South America. The music from his six piece band was heavy in sax and electric guitar along with loud percussive Reggae and Latin rythms – all ingredients you'd think would make for a dynamic musical experience. But Quique Neira gives us pop, the sort of thing you might hear at a Club Med in the Carribean or on a cruise.
The fusion of Reggae and Latin beats, a popular genre with enormous potential, is here subject to uninspired arrangements with disappointing results, a predictable and unsatisfying dilution of each style, not charismatic at all. Bob Marley songs like Easy Skankin and Get Up, Stand Up make an appearance but surely the whole point is a retake, a new slant on still relevant songs. With Reggae you don't expect the mainstream, rather you expect the musical style to reflect artistic references to politics, to the former Chilean dictatorship perhaps, a call to action, some interesting expression of aternative anti-establishment engagement. But Quique Neira, twice awarded the Chilean National Arts Award, sounds as though George Benson and Enrique Iglesias got together with Bob Marley, partied with Grace Jones and UB 40 and mixed themselves via AutoTune – and the resulting sound is bland, easy and about as revolutionary as a facial piercing. Just yelling out words like 'vibration' 'freedom' 'love' and 'democracy' does not a political statement make. Saying 'I love plants' and winking at references to marijuana cultivation is hardly anti-establishment these days. It's safe, is what it is. The expressions of political discontent are there perhaps, but in a form more pina colada than molotov cocktail. The music is fine, danceworthy and fun but it has a tired predictability to it. Neira has a lovely voice but it's not in service to music that asks questions. Having said that, perhaps what he sang and said in Spanish was more interesting. The crowd was having fun, and if I'd just been out for just a dance I'd have been happy.
The song Felicida involved some intensity and seemed to catch at an emotional thread. The peak of the night was Soy el Car Tante where energetically authentic sounding rhythms jiggled everyone's dancing bones, followed by Yo No Queiro ir a la Guerra.
Our major arts festival, you would hope, is supposed to bring us art that's inspired, original, groundbreaking and questing, something representative of voices that we don't usually get to hear, works that don't make it to the main stage. There must be some fantastic underground Reggae-Latin fusion coming out of Santiago, or anywhere in South America. Or here. Instead we get Reggae Lite mixed with Latin pop. Party music. Not sure why this one's in the Melbourne Festival.
Venue: Foxtel Festival Hub | South bank of Yarra River, east of Princes Bridge (opposite Fed Square), Melbourne
Date: 14 Oct, 2013